When I indulge in a soak in hot springs (or a steam-room stint at a spa) it’s hard for me to fully enjoy the experience if I don’t feel like I earned that soak.
That is, if I’ve exercised beforehand, I don’t feel one bit of guilt for lingering in a natural mineral pool or hot tub, soothing sore muscles or otherwise relaxing.
That’s why I was delighted to find out that there’s a distinct three-mile hiking trail that leads through the forest to the secluded Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
This moderate trail (Forest Service Trail #1169) winds its way through evergreen trees, aspens and oak brush and follows a gentle creek (gentle in early September, anyway).
It’s not difficult by any means, as it took our small group no more than 90 minutes to make the one-way trek — the actual distance may be a bit less than 3 miles, as I was surprised at how quickly we reached the hot springs.
Hikers actually enter the hot springs facility on the opposite end from the main entrance; drivers come up a distinct road (CR 36), whose last couple miles are quite steep and winding.
The map here on the Strawberry Park Hot Springs website is great for directions and finding the hiking trailhead off of Elk River Road outside of town.
You’ll need to make your way to the main entrance — look for an old truck and what might be a vintage camper or covered wagon?! — where the cashier will take your cash (no credit cards accepted) for admission to the pools; you can rent towels here, too.
Facilities here are rustic; there’s a tipi and a cabin with separate changing rooms to slip on your bathing suit, but don’t expect electrical outlets or provided hair dryers in the restrooms, as the hot springs are basically off the grid.
I highly, highly recommend arriving at the hot springs soon after they open for the day at 10am. When we arrived at about 10:45am on a Friday morning, we nearly had the place to ourselves, and had no problem finding lounge chairs to claim.
The multiple pools, heated to varying temperatures none typically colder than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, are peaceful at this time of day. By the time we left around noon, it was definitely becoming more crowded with visitors.
While weekday mornings are ideal, I’d like to return for an evening, adults-only soak. After dark, only guests who are 18+ are allowed to soak until midnight on the weekends and until 10:30pm Sunday through Thursday.
I’m told it’s key to bring a headlamp or flashlight to navigate around the pools and the stone steps, as provided lighting is minimal — all the better to see the millions of stars in the dark night sky from this secluded spot!
Also on my to-do list: Overnighting in the train caboose or one of the covered wagons (pictured below)! These rustic accommodations sound so unusual and cozy. There are also cabins to rent (also rustic) and tent sites.
A couple more points to note:
- The FS #1169 hiking trail is closed December 1 through mid-April. Summer and fall are likely the best times to make the trek, with spring and late fall months likely bringing muddy conditions (doable, but muddy in the changing seasons).
- If you choose to drive to Strawberry Park Hot Springs in the winter (November 1-May 1), you’ll need a 4wd vehicle to negotiate that aforementioned steep road. You can also book round-trip shuttle transport.
- Massage and Watsu (water therapy) are available if you want to truly indulge in a soak-and-spa experience in a pretty mountain setting.
- The hot springs are open daily year round; even on all holidays!
Thanks to Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association for sponsoring my stay in Steamboat!